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Ashes Stolen From Chinese Cemetery, Held For Ransom

Grave robbers in central China pilfered a cemetery in Henan province last week, stole ashes from several grave sites and held them hostage. The robbers ripped open tombs at the Hongshan Cemetery in Xinyan City, according to the news website ifeng.com, where they spirited away ash-filled urns and left notes with phone numbers.

A woman calling herself only "Mrs. Liu," came to visit the tomb of her husband to find his ashes missing. When she called one of the numbers written on the notes left behind, the person on the other end demanded Y20,000 (more $3,000) for the urn's return.

Another family whose loved one's ashes were stolen paid the ransom, but the blackmailers still demanded more money and refused to give back the ashes, according to ifeng.

Most Chinese take ancestor worship and the afterlife quite seriously and some ancient traditions linger. In 2013, four men were sent to prison after digging up female corpses to be used in "ghost marriages," according to the Xian Evening News. A ghost marriage, which stretches back thousands of years, involves burying a bachelor with the recently deceased woman so he won't be lonely in the afterlife. The custom is rare today, but still practiced in rural parts of northern China and south China's Guangdong province.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.

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